This is another "list" song. The speaker lists things that there are many of, then contrasts that with the fact that there is "only one" of his beloved.
The imagery is entirely taken from nature. The first verse lists water-related things-- "waves" and "shells." The second verse moves to the forest and mentions "birds," "leaves," and "hills." The third names objects given as tokens of affection-- "pearls" and "roses." The chorus gives us "mile after mile of prairie/ Drop after drop of rain."
Each verse ends with "But only one you." This message is emphasized by the last lines in the chorus: "But if I searched for another you/ I'd go searching in vain" (which is what rhymes with "rain").
For all the formulaic elements, however, the song is quite effective. Given the other songs that were popular at the time, there is no real reason this should not have been a hit.
Perhaps because of its predictable structure and natural imagery, the song has a timeless feel. If it had been covered by, say, Peter Paul & Mary or by Joan Baez, the listener would have to be entirely forgiven for thinking the author had been some Robin Hood-era bard from York, and not a modern teenager from New York.
And wouldn't it be a great hoodwink for some Renaissance-Faire performer to play this piece on a lute... and then tell everyone it was written by Paul Simon in the late 1950s.
This song presages works like "Sparrow" and "Scarborough Fair," which made up a decent percentage of Simon & Garfunkel's recordings. Perhaps Simon thought this number too simplistic for his duo work.
But with a slower tempo and a vocal by Garfunkel, this could have been a hit... or at least a concert favorite at the level of "April Come She Will," or "El Condor Pasa."
I'd be curious to hear a report from a coffee-house singer who presented this song as a traditional folk number as to the audience's reaction, both before and after the revelation of its actual source.
It's discoveries like this and "Forever and After" that make exploring Simon's early work so rewarding.
Next Song: Haven't You Hurt Me Enough?